The Use of Laminates & Veneers in Design
- Written by Ar Apurva Bose Dutta
The past couple of years have seen an extensive use of laminates and veneers in interior designing - a more elaborate implementation from their initial use as mere decorative surfaces in table tops and counters. Today they have a much functional presence in home and office interiors as well as hotels, institutions etc. Technology has given a great boost to their applications and has led to an advancement in their properties. Besides which, the market now offers a number of shades and textures in laminates and veneers that allows the users to choose according to the ambience they intend to create. Waxed edges, piano finish, bevelled edges, hand scraped and the availability in a host of other textures have made them ideal materials complimented with the cost savings and the faster installation time that they enable.
With their flexibility, versatility and their ability to gel in with any design scheme, laminates and veneers prove to be a cost-effective alternative to wood, an environment-friendly practice (for the same amount of furniture, laminates/veneers use less amount of wood than used in furniture made with solid wood). Besides, a comparative low maintenance is required as compared to solid wood and the range of options available is huge. With a paradigm shift noted in the concept of interiors today, people have started opting for more functional interiors, preferring them over ornate details. This is where laminates and veneers again are preferred over solid timber.
Veneers are treated thin slice of woods obtained from trees and are categorised as sliced or rotary-cut veneers (according to the way they are cut). Since veneers are actually wood slices, they impart a warm and a natural wooden look to the surfaces where they are used. Used for furniture and panelling of all kinds, they are considered a great option for residences. Today, the market also offers range of veneers which are used for complete wall panelling. The thickness of the veneers is important as it has a major role in determining their durability. More the thickness, better is the durability. Also, during any kind of repair, it is the thickness that determines the limitations to which any damage can be fixed. Different ranges of veneers in shades, colours and textures (smoked and fumed veneers), are available in the markets today. Veneers happen to be the most economical way to use timber and can be easily recycled too, to be used later. They have oil-based finishes as well as water-based finishes and are a stupendous combination with lacquer finishes too. Being natural products, they last longer than laminates and can be polished according to the client's taste. Also veneers prove to be a great bet in furniture where solid wood can't be used due to its contraction and expansion caused by fluctuation of temperature and humidity.
LaminatesLaminates are engineered materials made from paper and plastic resins. From furniture and cabinetry, their implementation today has extended to decorative walling and flooring too where they can prove to be a good alternative to hardwood. Being scratch–resistant, and requiring a mere cleaning and no polishing, their maintenance remains easier than that of veneers. Lending an elegant touch to all products, laminates are available in numerous design patterns, colours and textures - innovations also include digital laminates (used largely in decoration of walls etc) in which patterns can be created according to the customer's choice.
Based on their different manufacturing processes, there are high pressure laminates, low pressure laminates, compact laminates (which are self - supporting and don't need to be glued to wood or any other material); laminates are available either for decorative or for industrial uses. Standard laminates are used in normal applications, post formable laminates are used in kitchens and offices where a neater look is required, and in places like hospitals and restaurants where hygiene is extremely important - anti-bacterial laminates are used.
Laminates being artificially created materials have a huge range of designs and patterns (much more than veneers). This availability of huge range also leads to least wastage. They are considered ideal for offices since they can offer better resistance to the great amount of wear and tear and scratches that happen in office spaces (seen more in workstations). However, being brittle materials, they are prone to chipping.
A noticeable shift has been witnessed in the consumer's pick that has travelled from non-branded to branded laminates. Architect Neelaksh Mahajan, Principal architect of Bengaluru-based architectural practice VBT Consortium feels this shift can be attributed to the cost v/s quality factor. "Clients are of the view that with a moderate increase in cost, branded laminates can be afforded which confirm to higher quality standards in terms of durability. Branded laminates also offer an extensive range with consistency in design/shade/pattern, especially for large scale projects which are completed in phases. Their procurement is also more streamlined and thus facilitates the design and execution team to maintain project timelines," adds Ar Neelaksh.
The Industry, Market Potential and Growth RateWhile it is true that India has a huge potential market for imported hardwood veneer and laminates, however the wood processing industry in India is highly unorganised which hampers its market development. Also, the standards remain much below par since most of the wood work is handled by individual craftsmen or by small workshops.
However, one sees a huge demand for timber which studies report is going to hit a figure of 153 million cubic metres in 2020 in India. Efforts should be made to fill the huge gap between the demand and supply.
Assessing the market growth of laminates and veneers, Mr Joseph elucidates, "Laminates and veneers are the first choice of interior designers and end users today when it comes to decorating the surfaces of furniture/wall panels. They help in getting the perfect blend and tone. Traditional panels and wood décor products limit the maximum, sustainable use of wood and wooden panels. The growth is positive for both the product categories as the trend is shifting from use of plain old designs to use of latest/ contemporary designs."
Emerging Application Areas and Demand DriversNew and advanced technology has enabled laminates to be fire-retardant, equipped for exterior application, and sensitive to electronic devices. Today, special outdoor UV-laminates are used for making bill boards. Fire retardant laminates used more in kitchens and cinema halls are treated with chemicals that delay temperature rise. Electrostatic dissipative laminates (ESD) minimise chances of sparking and damage to sensitive electronic devices. There are metallic laminates (where a real metal foil is used such as copper, steel or aluminium) and leather-finished laminates too. Prominent textures on veneer and laminates and smoked designs are also much in vogue. Also, since firms are focussing on green products, there are decorative laminates whose constituents emit minimal levels of pollutions to indoor environments.
Client Knowledge and AwarenessIt is an accepted fact that customer involvement and knowledge about laminates and veneers in India is very low. The old concept of merely approaching a local carpenter for woodwork is however, slowly giving way to opportunities for customers to become more educated. Today, consumer tastes do also influence the design of laminates and veneers.
Architect Manjunath Hathwar, Partner of Mumbai-based architectural practice Space Dynamix feels that with new laminate designs being added every few weeks and old ones being discarded, it becomes very difficult for architects and designers to track availability of particular designs.
The days of having the customer to walk through crowded dingy timber markets to select their products, may also be over soon. Emphasizing on the customer experience, Greenply Industries ltd have made a pioneering effort in disseminating knowledge about laminates and veneers through their Green Studios in many cities like Bengaluru, Noida, Raipur, Kolkata, Chandigarh etc. In a gallery-like setting, the entire range of laminates, veneers etc are displayed under one roof. Adds Mr Joseph, "Besides 360 degree campaign, comprising TVC, OOH, Radio, Digital and Social media, we also do various engagement activities to increase awareness. Our Green Design Studios, New Mika Showcase (housing decorative woodtrends veneers and a Vaastu-inspired laminate brand New Mika) is an initiative towards creating awareness amongst customers on our entire range as well as educate them on how smartly veneers and laminates can be used for their interiors. We showcase this by making them go through the entire application of each product category which helps them to have a feel of the kind of interiors they can expect through veneers and laminates. Currently, we have 14 Green Design Studios and three New Mika Showcase across India and we have plans to add more of these in the future."
Favourite Players in the IndustryZZ Architects who like to select laminates depending on the tones and the colours required for the design are happy with using Greenlam and century laminates for their projects, besides sourcing veneer from Jalaram, Mumbai. Architect Neelaksh admits that the general preference in projects of VBT Consortium is towards Merino Laminates and Euro laminates. "Both these brands deal in quality products. Their range is also very vast which offers ample flexibility to the designers," he adds.
Space Dynamix regularly uses Greenlam, Durian and Merinolam. Dwelling on their features Architect Manjunath adds, "These are backed by solid quality assurance and at the same time are available in refreshing and innovative designs which is what a designer looks for. We source veneers generally from Jalaram, due to the exotic collection which is difficult to find anywhere else."
Quality ConsiderationsMost top laminate brands in India conform to the Indian standards set up by BIS. The companies that export their products to other countries also conform to international standards.
Dwelling on the quality consideration for using veneers and laminates, ZZ Architects feel that the usage of laminates and veneers can be determined by the intensity of the usage of a particular space and budget.
Architect Neelaksh opines that it is important to consider the overall design scheme with respect to function, style, colour and pattern while selecting veneer and laminates. Ideally though he would like to consider the quality of parent wood while selecting veneers, but since it is not always feasible to identify the exact source of the veneer, in such cases he suggests factors of moisture content, thickness, graining, patterns or figures, stains, special identifications such as burls, knots and most importantly, any open defects such as fissures, splits, etc, that should be taken into consideration.
Decorative laminates are generally used as an overlay over plywood, particle boards or MDF, in which case they need to protect the wood too. There are a number of quality tests that are carried out on laminates which check their resistance to external adverse conditions and also their quality on the basis of their appearance and dimensional stability. These quality tests include testing the resistance to staining, scratching, surface wear, colour change, cracking, heat to many others too. Adding on this architect Neelaksh elaborates, "The quality of the facing materials plays a vital role in the final outcome of any project. Quality considerations for good laminates would be their durability and grade. It may also be beneficial to know if the laminate was manufactured under direct or high pressure and whether it complies with industry standards and is/or ISO certified. Resistance to boiling water/stains/wear and tear, etc.; and the laminates' dimensional stability are also key factors to be considered."